Hydrogen facility worth $1.3B planned for Edmonton region

· The Pulse

The provincial and federal governments announced a deal with Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. on June 9 to build the newest addition to the Edmonton Region Hydrogen Hub: a $1.3 billion hydrogen production facility in northeast Edmonton.

Air Products is aiming to have the facility up and running by 2024, which will produce both gas and liquid blue hydrogen with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions to be used as transportation fuel and in other industrial processes, the company said in a press release.

"We are paving the way for hydrogen from Edmonton to meet industrial and transportation needs throughout western Canada," said Seifi Ghasemi, Air Products' CEO.

Most of Alberta's hydrogen capacity is for blue hydrogen, which is produced by converting natural gas through a process called steam methane reforming, which emits carbon dioxide — coupled with carbon capture or sequestration. This is in contrast to green hydrogen, which is produced by converting water and has zero emissions.

Mayor Don Iveson praised the project, explaining that expanding hydrogen production will help the region's economy, and get the City of Edmonton closer to meeting its emissions reduction targets, since hydrogen can replace more carbon-intensive fuels like natural gas.

"We need many, many pathways to get to net-zero by 2050, but hydrogen is a big one," he said.

Iveson is a member of the leadership team for the Hydrogen Hub, which was set up in April to be a launching point for projects that can help develop a regional hydrogen economy. He said this will become increasingly critical for the region as the world transitions from carbon-intensive energy sources.

"I've unwaveringly been a strong advocate for investments like these, because I believe they are the key to ensuring our economic prosperity," he said, adding that the project would create an estimated 2,500 construction and engineering jobs, and contribute to local tax revenues.

Alberta already produces about 5.4 kilotonnes of hydrogen gas per day, according to a November 2020 report written by Alberta's Industrial Heartland Hydrogen Task Force — a group set up by The Transition Accelerator in conjunction with four Edmonton-area mayors, including Iveson.

The liquid hydrogen that will be produced can be burned as fuel or converted into electricity, in processes that only emit water and small amounts of heat — so no greenhouse gases.

An aerial image of the land where the new hydrogen facility will be built. The new facility will be located in an industrial park bordering Strathcona County. Air Products already operates another hydrogen facility and pipeline in Alberta's Industrial Heartland, near Fort Saskatchewan. (Air Products)

Some of the methane reforming facilities in the province are outfitted to capture and store portions of the carbon dioxide byproduct produced by blue hydrogen, but the November 2020 report said that steam methane reforming is quite carbon-intensive, producing about nine kilograms of carbon dioxide per one kilogram of hydrogen. In Alberta, the process emits about 18 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Alberta produced a total of 272.8 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2017, the latest year available, according to the Canada Energy Regulator.

Air Products said the Edmonton-area facility will produce hydrogen that is "blue, but better" — capturing more of the carbon dioxide emissions than existing blue hydrogen facilities. A diagram included in the press release shows the company plans on capturing 95% of the emissions from the methane reforming process.

While the company did not provide details on how this level of sequestration will be achieved, Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta has "favourable geology" that allows carbon to be sequestered underground, and that the facility will "combine technologies in new and innovative ways."

"In fact, this technology is the first of its kind in Canada to produce net-zero hydrogen from natural gas," he added.

The company said it will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by using hydrogen-fueled electricity to offset the remaining 5% of carbon dioxide byproduct.

The deal is still pending federal permit approvals and potential government investment and tax provisions. Kenney said the provincial government is working out details how it will financially support the project, adding that Air Products has already received $15 million through Emissions Reduction Alberta.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Alberta mostly produces blue hydrogen. While Alberta is capable of producing mostly blue hydrogen, currently only 42% of steam methane reforming involves storing and sequestering carbon dioxide. We also reported that the facility will be located near Fort Saskatchewan, and will produce hydrogen gas. The facility will actually produce both gas and liquid hydrogen, and will be located in Edmonton.